tv Forty Autumns CSPAN December 18, 2016 7:45am-8:31am EST
as one more chance and if nothing else, i would love to sign books. [applause] >> thank you very much. we will begin signing the books. if you haven't purchased the books, if this makes it a heck of a lot easier to get things done here. if he be so kind as to fold appear chairs and let them against the theory surface that would also be lovely of you. thank you so much for coming.
>> hi, everyone. i think we are ready to get started. welcome to politics & prose. back in the family. and the manager at the bookstore. a few housekeeping notes before we get to the good stuff. if you could please answer cell phone so we can all be in this moment together and be present, that would be wonderful. because we're filming, if you have questions and use the microphone right here, delight raise your hand. definitely go to the microphone. it helps a lot. if you're not familiar with you 500 authors of the year. you should check out our events calendar around her website and see what else is coming out. we have event or to separate the really good ones. thanks so much. i'm very excited to walk into politics & prose today.
nina willner served as the cold war, a plot point in this book to let her tell you about and since then has worked in russia and eastern europe with children's college in the rule of law for the u.s. government, nonprofit organizations in a variety of charities. she takes a safety lock through the lands around family history. time to start 33 generations of women she painted chilling picture. the "chicago tribune" wrote it is a meticulous and compassionate family memoir, powerful addition to the genre with a twist and turn to politics in easter bunny over more than four decades and reform affected in individualized. please join me in welcoming nina willner. [applause] >> thank you, adelaide. thank you, politics & prose in thank you for joining me today
for what is essentially my book launch. i appreciate all of the taking a timeout. >> we can't hear. >> is this microphone on? okay. i can speak up. does that work? there we go. i think that's it. so again, thank you all for being here today to share this day which marks the culmination of quite a journey for me. before i get started, i would like to mention a few people with us today, lieutenant general tom griffin who among other postings in his remarkable career was the commander of berlin in the 1980s when i was posted to berlin. friends, colleagues who are here today, dr. hope harrison who is one of the leading scholars on
east germany and the cold war and cold war and i'm honored that she agree to be the historian for my project. my family including my mother, my mother hannah let the age of 20 escape from east germany and right to freedom, eventually coming to america and without her courage it would not be here telling you this story today. so what is the book about? "forty autumns" is about what happened to my family during the cold war. from east germany to the family that she left behind, large family, mother, father and eight siblings trapped in a country. and east germany as an young american intelligence officer began operations in east berlin. set within the bigger picture of the cold war story, the epic clash of superpowers struggle for dominance of the space race
and the nuclear arms race and arms race and conflicts of race round the world intentions that bordered on the kinds of nuclear war and what did not story is my family, for space separated for 40 years, never knowing if they would see each other again. i would like to start off with a little bit of background and put us on the map. i don't have a mac today, that there are maps in the book. at the end of world war ii, 1945, the soviets in western allies, americans can embrace, canadians, french are making their way to liberate the country. the americans are the first to arrive at the village for my mother, a teenager at the time. the americans stay for a short while. but then explain to the villagers the country has been divided. the west will be administered by western allies from the east by
the soviets. the american villagers. they can take one or two villagers to the last but no one in the village wants to break up their families. but then my grandmother doing stories that the soviet make their way into the country, forces her older daughter, my mother who is 17 years old at this point to leave with the americans who are headed westward. several miles down the road, honda catapult herself and goes running back home to her family in the next day the soviets alive and trend a rise. it is essentially divided to have speared western allies take control of what becomes west germany did the soviets occupied eastern half that becomes east germany and deep inside east germany 110 aisles in berlin.
west berlin by the western allies in the soviet period west berlin is essentially a tiny island of democracy and freedom by communist territory. it used against the police database and communist authoritarianism, and modeled on the soviet union and state security known as the secret police enforces the population for fear and intimidation. on the other side, the west is administered by nato allies and is based on democracy and freedom. the soviets struck the east. everything from railroad tax to farm machinery to toilets, even doorknobs. entire cities and towns are
guided. factories were dismantled to be reassembled in the soviet union. food is to be turned in and divided equally among people which is either slow to happen or doesn't happen at all. the communist authorities escape private land, private property and communist, germans opposed rolls which amounts to the enemy of the state. words against the regime to have anyone interrogated or imprisoned. by mothers village, the new soviet occupiers arrived telling the villagers the soviet army comes as friends and brothers to help build a new germany. but they followed that with all food is to be relinquished to the soviet command immediately. anyone hoarding food for himself or his family will be shot. anyone who attacks the soviet
soldier will be attacked so one. an intense propaganda campaign in susan morelos are instituted. the communist regime completely takes over society, initially outlined religion comes sensory media and authors of information, even tried to broadcast signals that are coming from the west. so i would like to share with you with little vignette from the book that helps illustrate the kinds of things that were happening at this time and east germany. so at this point, my mother lived for a short time in the border town with west germany, said easton wants with her grandfather. so because it was a border town, the authorities were often afraid for people to make or break. authorities kept a close side
note people. curfews were enforced, started well before some time and ended after dawn. punishments downloaded not just those that attempted to flee, but also those suspected of having knowledge of an escape and failed to report it. words against the regime were enough to have one escorted to a town. the local makeshift soviet headquarters. a converted stable in terry gave in and asked for it to be hauled off to prison. it took some longer than others to get the message. one day of school as students were milling out the back of the classroom during a break from anteater come a likable but sometimes mischievous boy who had a tendency to talk too much went a step too far. how can they teach us the slop? can you believe us teaching us that stalin is a great leader? two years ago teaching us that stalin was a great team and. put in his weekly fingers
suicide. as the other boys go flawed and snickered, let's get to see the communist party stared at him with a penetrating player. they hauled him out of class. he was not seen again. so tens of thousands of people were sent to jail and hundreds would be executed. while many were able to flee east germany in the first five years, it becomes harder as east germany fortifies its border with the u.s. and border guards are given orders to shoot. so while food is coming into west germany, in the east people go hungry. they are being so hungry, but decimating a single carrot for fear that someone will see your eating unauthorized food and she will be shot.
two teenage girls sat out a site in which they wrote please give us food. not the image the soviets want to portray. i know the store from having interviewed one of the girls who served a year and a half in jail for that offense. and sean burke, my grandfather is a village teacher who is now required to teach soviet doctrine, marxist theory and even the russian language which he learned that night before teaching at the next day. my grandmother tries to cope, urging her children to lay low, follow the rules and not attract undue attention. the children joined the young pioneers. hana's closest sibling, her older brother send it to be a teacher, the hana sees what is going on around her and has no intention of conforming. almost all connections between
the east and west are centered. there is a currency division between east and west. she sees that things are getting more dire, raises concerns to her grandfather. he takes her out and shows her where the rail line is husband pulled a period and our god. he tells her, if you want to get out, do it soon. in less than a year this place will be one big prison. so should that make several attempts at escape it once with their grandfather's help, once where she is shot at by a soviet soldier. twice she is dragged back into the east into the east and the third time she makes it. it is this escape the effects of emotion the story, nature and which launches her family through the next 40 years through the cold war. so over the next 40 years we were very little about the
family in the east. we are able to exchange a few letters, but we know very little about what is happening in their lives. the most we in the west do it off as east germany was the weak reclusive police state that had an appalling human rights record and imprison citizens. in schaumburg, the principled man with a short fuse can't help but speak up when he sees injustices all around him. he even writes a letter to the east german leader, speaking on behalf of the farmers suggest a compromise between the new boss of collectivization and let the farmers want, which is to keep some of their land. that didn't go over too well. now besides being the father of a criminal, because he's associated because his daughter has escaped, he's on the watch list has been a troublemaker and
braided politically unreliable and in order to keep his place in society works hard to prove himself to the authorities and he joins the communist party. one year after hana had fled to the west, another child, little heidi, the ninth and last child in the family is boring. pleased with the authorities to be able to go see her daughter in the west and after many rejections, the authorities finally agree to it. it's under the condition it was a spy on hana who's now working for americans of the u.s. army military headquarters in west germany. ..
reading their mail, listening in on conversations, tracking their movements, gathering compromising details in an attempt to learn people's witnesses so that can be exploited. in the book i talk about how they try to get the family to inform on each other and even send my grandparents to the west on a second spy mission to find out about and his work and her new husband, my father, who is a u.s. army intelligence officer stationed at the headquarters. this is the last time my mother would see her parents.
in the east they ramp up the use of informants using its own citizens to work as spies who report on their neighbors, classmates, colleagues, teachers, even teachers, even their own family members. the program is a success because no one can be trusted and no one knows who the informants are. it could be your friend, the person you share an office with, a teammate on a on a sports team, the janitor in your apartment complex. the program of using informants would have eventually have one in six east germans informing on its fellow citizens. one interesting story, a former east german and today and historian, well-known historian in germany tells the story of after the wall fell in the early 1990s, he was having a conversation with a former agent and he said i think i would've know if you would send someone to spy on me. and he answered, we didn't need
to send anyone. these were people who surrounded you. in fact we got -- he found two of his best friends had reported on him. so all this is to say that this became a way of life, and this is how life normalized for the people of east germany. people learn to adapt, self censor their thoughts, and this just becomes a way of survival. as my aunt told me, we survived similar simply by following the rules, trying to stay below the radar and not confronting the system. so in 1953 there is an uprising in east germany. workers protest living and working conditions and demonstrate for basic human rights and for reform and for freedom. but the red army moves in with tanks and crushes the rebellion. hundreds are killed, tens tens of thousands are arrested for participating. some 100 organizers are
executed. at along with around 20 soviet soldiers were executed for refusing to shoot demonstrators. and now the secret police tells the leadership tells the secret place to do whatever necessary to make sure no pricing never happens again. so by the 1960s, some 3,000,000, around 16 one-sixth of the population, has led and the regime decides that the time has come to do something to stop the hemorrhaging of its labor force if they don't want to see the country collapse altogether. while the border between east and west germany is secured in berlin due to the interconnected nature of the city, people are able to escape into west berlin but by now there are rumors the regime plans to someday build a structure, perhaps a wall, to permanently separate west berlin from the east. thus cutting off the last hope
of escape. so by the early 19 sixties, 2000 east germans a day are day are fleeing into west berlin. the east german leader tries to quell the surge of escapes by going on the airwaves and saying, if this is a quote, no one has any intention of building a wall. but one month later that's exactly what he does. what starts as a bod water and brick wall eventually becomes a 12-foot high, three-foot thick concrete wall with around the top to prevent grasping, wire mesh, electrical fencing is installed, tripwires tripwires,h lights and a death strip, 100-yard wide got looked at carefully rigged sand which makes it easy to stop, to spot the footprints of an escapee. the wall stretches over 100 miles, completely encircling berlin and seals the country.
one year later in 1962, to my grandparents, especially my grandpa is great disappointment ion his youngest son, my uncle, is ordered to be a border guard to serve at the berlin wall. between the building of the wall in 1961 and the fall of the wall in 1989, almost 150 people would be shot trying to escape your se 1000 others killed while trying to cross the border elsewhere or by drowning in the baltic sea or the berlin river. the berlin wall was clearly built to keep the people in, but the east german leadership tells its people the wall is built to keep subversives out. a subversive on the west out there but the family of the east knows it and although some east germans might be fooled, millions of others know exactly why the wall was built. so by now my grandmother has
built a wall of her own. it even gives it a name, the family wall. so i would just like to read another excerpt from the book. the safe haven that should be gone to great the davis of its step foot come to shoulder family from the suffocation of the regime now had a name. she declared tha the family wals sanctuary, a refuge with family would preserve their souls by keeping the good in and the bad out. the children followed her lead in the concept took hold. inside the family while the children let down their guard. as a fabric of east german society began to fray under the yoke of oppression, and families wonder whether not make a trust their spouses, parents or siblings, she demanded family trust and loyalty. behind closed door, she insisted that the posterity of the family wall if he would have any chance
against the regime out to crush the spirit of its people. so the cold war rages on. the space race takes off from the nuclear arms race continues with both the soviet union and he was building their nuclear arsenals. major world tensions. communism and democracy against one another. president kennedy and soviet leader khrushchev go head-to-head in various conflict. khrushchev eventually sink to the west we will bury you. after the wall is built is germany's reputation already at a low plummets, in that effort to upgrade its image of the regime launches a sports program, the likes of which had never been seen in the history, and history at all. suddenly the tiny country of east germany is producing extraordinary athletes. the countries repetition goes up for a while.
the world of stopping to watch every time and east german shatters a record, at world competitions and at the olympics. olympics. but then it's discovered east germany is doping its top athletes. back inch one of her, tried to continue to speak up against the regime, chalks up more black marks come eventually pays the price for his belligerence pickiest denounced, marginalized from society, kicked out of the communist party and is banished remote area in east germany, even sit for time to an insane asylum where he has to undergo reeducation training. the family makes its way in the system. most of the children grew up to be teachers. they live their lives by following the rules, following the laws and trying to preserve their self dignity. and trying to live a life of meaning in this restricted environment. heidi, the little sister, gross
appeared she and her husband both do not join the communist party and they suffer the consequences, especially professionally. but they also create a sort of little secret hideaway, sorted and magical place with a flower garden that becomes kind of a refuge where they can escape emotionally from the stresses of society. paradise bungalow, which is what they call it, he comes a tiny oasis of freedom and energy, and i won't ruin that story for you. you will have to read that one. in the 1970s, in america, mostly in fall falls church, my mother and father raised six children and whether they're very comfortable life in the land of freedom and opportunity. in the east heidi hasn't aged old daughter who is an athletic dynamo and she catches the eye as sports tout scouts for incredible athletic ability, and she's a merely swept up into the east german sports program. then in 1978 in the u.s., my
brother albert who is with us today as well is an 18-year-old college sophomore on summer break, goes on a on a backpacking trip to west germany, and unbeknownst to any of us, my parents as well, slips into east germany to meet the family behind the iron curtain. another amazing story that i won't spoil for you. in the 1980s, the soviet union as a reform i did later, mikhail gorbachev. we have ronald reagan and the two worked to improve relations. by the time i arrived in berlin in the early 1980s as a young u.s. army intelligence officer, the red army has 20 divisions facing the west. it's the height of the cold war and berlin as a hotbed of intelligence activity and now known called the spy capital of the world. all sorts of intelligence activity from both sides of the
berlin wall are being employed, and i was given the job of leading intelligence collection missions into these berlin where we went into the east in teams of two to spy on the soviets. in the book i sure a little bit about the teams that did this work, the risks and the dangers that came with the job iluding car chases, detentions, aggressive actions on the part of the soviets and east germans who were targeting as constant constantly. stasi researchers were able to come up with photos of my operation, of stasi agents surveilling me and my team. those picture are also in the book. incredibly while i was working in east berlin, my cousin who by then had become kindly been swept up into the intense world of east german sports of the company of the east german olympic training team. in women's cycling.
and was training come racing around in east berlin at the very same time i was crossing into, crossing through the checkpoint charlie just a couple miles away or conducting intelligence operations in the east. of course we didn't know that until the wall fell and we were able to figure that out. in the book i also tell the story of some very brave souls not related to the family. major arthur nicholson who i worked with who is buried at arlington national cemetery today shot and killed in 1985 by soviet century while on a mission in east germany. major nicholson became the last casualty of the cold war. i also spoke to family members and some who were killed trying to escape. family members of people trying, who were killed trying to escape. i also tell the story of two political prisoners that i interviewed and about a few dissidents who tried to speak up
for the rights of all. i also spoke to luther, now it's become a personal friend, some something may recall his extraordinary story. he spent several years sewing scraps of fabric together, canvas, bedsheets, odd bits of fabric, sewed it, sewed on his mother lost 40 -year-old sewing machine and built a hot air balloon. he attached a homemade burner to it and made, along with another family, his wife and his two children made a miraculous escape sailing both families over the wall one dark night in 1979. there is a picture of the balloon in the book as well, the balloon. by the mid 1980s countries throughout europe are taking gorbachev lead for restructuring and opening up to the west. but the leader of east germany,
a hard-line communist digs in and refuses to budge from his position. and even files to be the last remaining hard-line dictator in eastern germany. -- eastern europe. suddenly the world is stunned when east germans are told they are free to go. 60,000,000 people emerged from behind the iron curtain, including my mothers family, and we reunite after 40 years apart. in the book i detail how that fall came about, possibly by accident actually, and i take you through the reunion. so i am sometimes asked what is this book really about, what's the take away, or what does it all mean? despite living under oppression and that he would struggle and loss, "forty autumns" is a story of courage, resilience and the
power of the human spirit. it's also about never giving up and never losing hope. an.and finally, it's about the value of, it's about understanding the value of freedom. pixar like to end with this. when i was in my research for the book i asked uncle reinhardt who didn't join the commonest party why he didn't join the communist party when he knew he could get ahead if he did. and he said i knew the system was wrong. i wasn't going to trade my integrity for material benefits. and then he said from it wasn't about material things, wasn't about wanting better products or even food when there were food shortages. none of that stuff mattered to me. i just wanted to be free. thanks for your attention. [applause] >> so i think i probably went a
little over, but i think think we can take a few questions, if anybody has any. >> thank you very much a really compelling story. i guess to really closely, clos, somewhat closely related questions. the main one being the whole process, idea joining the communist party in east germany during the cold war. was it easy to do, provided that, i mean, what were the sort of requirements for being able to join the party lacks was anyone, perhaps anyone with a clear criminal record or with no criminal record or something allowed to join, or was it based more on some of the level of achievement?
>> generally speaking it was based on your willingness to be a member. that was about it. but obviously they vetted people, but it was not difficult to become a member of the party. they expected it. they welcomed everyone. >> that's simple enough. so the other part of the other question was just, you said in your own say operations missions and so forth into east germany, the way you put it was you went there in teams of two, in your case to spy on the soviets pick at a didn't know if that was because you weren't really distinguishing between east german government people and soviets living in, operating in east germany. so as far as your work goes,
wasn't there a distinction? >> we were there -- >> who you wanted to spy on spirit we were spying on the soviets and east germans. i said the soviets because they were the major power we were interested in getting every bit of information we could become especially battle information, training, a lot of those kinds of things as well. but basically it was an opportunity for us to keep our eye on what was going on in the east, and getting as much information we could from any place we could. and you know, it just depended on, again, what our requirements were on any given day. but we were out there to get as much information from the soviets and east germans as we could. >> and you were able to get in as a representative of the press or what was your -- >> i detail that in the book as well. but generally, due to a four
power agreement after world war ii, it provided for all four powers, the soviets, americans, british and french to a small teams. they agreed we could all have small teams to go into each other's territories. so the americans, british and french were able to access his berlin, all of east germany and the soviets were able to access west berlin and west germany. so the official, the official, the official job was to exercise our access rights by the agreement. but obviously gave us an opportunity to do a lot of other things. >> where you are allowed to ask questions? >> somethings we did overtly and somethings were more not so overt. >> thank you.
>> it sounds like it's a human story within the context of a story of major world events, and those are kind of diverse and i was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your research process, how you did your research? >> so my research was really done in three parts, i would say. one was archival or document of research, photographic research. i found a lot of my information through american, british, german, russian archives that are easily accessible. some of them are even on the internet. recent documents that are been declassified, state department cables at a been declassified. and also was able to get information from stasi archives. letters that were exchanged
between the families families, , diaries, that sort of thing. and especially photographs were very important to my research. and then the second part was interviews or conversations with the family. so interviews with a lot of people, i called the conversations with the family really, when i live in minsk and moscow for example, i was close, closer to the family sues able to visit them a lot more often. we had a lot of great conversations around the dinner table and that sort of thing. and then when i lived in eastern europe i was able to also able to talk to anybody of eastern europeans, people from the former soviet union, former czechoslovakia, bulgaria, hungary on their perspective, their experiences during the cold war. so that was really very helpful for me to understand the experience. and then as i said, political prisoners. and then the third aspect was
going to all the locations in the book. and that was probably one of the finest things for me to do because i made these research trips to everything from the little village of schwan and berg where i met that town manager who gave me the keys to the little village museum and i was able to basically said just throw the keys on the porch when you are done. i went in there and i spent, you know, it was like walking back into time. this thing was set up so you could research the cold war in that village. everything from communist flags to communist party propaganda, young pioneer uniforms and symbols, secret police, you know, crests and all these things, ledgers, school lectures. so is able to go in and see some of my grandfathers writings and things like that.
and it was even a mockup of the classroom in that little tiny museum. some of those chairs and tables which might've been used in my grandfathers classroom. i was also able to go to paradise bungalow. often have been back to paradise bungalow, often. i went to the town where my grandfather and family was banished after he spoke up one too many times. and so i think that was really important. also going back to berlin, of course, which is in if you spent any time in berlin during the cold war you know what it looked like then. if you haven't been back yet, you should go because it resembles nothing of what it looked like once upon a time. >> thank you. >> several years ago jean edward smith did a biography of lucius clay was the military government
in berlin after the war end of the seminar at georgetown and several people who were there including frank clay, his son who'd been general also talked about the early days in 4 45 and 46 when the american intelligence penetrated his berlin intelligence. very interesting. they said they had moles way up in the east german, the ease berlin government by 47, early 47. one question, could you remind me what use was when the u.s. had diplomatic relations with the ddr? was that when you were there? >> so that was in the seventies. in the seventies it began and yes, definitely in the =80s. >> one story that i was told, a lady who is a career diplomat, she she was negotiating in berlin in 45 and she was negotiating with the east german support a building for the east berlin and they show to build a cassette the embassy.
i'm lucky to take that when because underneath is one o of e tunnels because your stasi is right across the street. they were amazed she knew that. >> interesting. thanks for sharing that. >> this is a tough question. i was going from a memorial point of view during the cold war, people -- i sympathize with everything you said, but when we in america were supporting bad regimes in iran and latin america and other places and we were using similar tools, you know, the same type, how do you equate the cold war in trying to have morality in the world? >> well, that's a tough question. that i think requires a lengthy discussion, frankly, i don't think there's a simple answer to that one. i mean, maybe that's something
we can talk about if you stick around after i signed a few books. i'd be happy to go into that a little bit more, but that's a loaded question. >> i'm curious to know when you started thinking, did your mother tell you these stories, tell you the family the stories that you were growing up? so was our something in you or did he come later when did you start thinking this might become a store you wanted to tell? >> well, so i opened the book, and i won't spoil that story for you either but it open the book as a five -year-old girl when i'm told that you don't have any relatives. and the truth of the matter is, my father besides being a u.s. army intelligence officer also was the sole survivor in his family in the holocaust. he was alone in the world and my mother did not have her family.
and so i wondered why didn't have relatives pics i think it was always with me from that point on. but my mother didn't talk about it a lot. she wanted to get on with her life, as both my parents did. we didn't have much information coming from the east. all we knew was she could talk about a little brothers and sisters, but after that that was it. any letter that that came from east, it was able to come out was very sparse information. if it had anything it was information that showed the regime in a good light. we are having a great time here, that sort of thing. but as of that we really didn't get much information, a few photographs and, of course, we pored over those when we saw them and tried to get as much information as lucrative but we really didn't have much
information in those 40 years at all. so wasn't until the wall fell that i was able to meet these people. about the first 10 or 15 years after the wall fell was really time for us is sort of get to know each other, time for them to sort of get a fresh breath of freedom and learn to adapt and get on with their lives and unite, reunified germany. it was a really until 10 or 15 years after the wall fell that we really got to know each other and i was able to ask more questions. little by little in the next years, you know, heard more of the story from all the different relatives. and then pieced them together. you know, some of them, you know, there were some amazing discoveries about, for example, when my cousin and i realized when she told me she was training for the olympics in
east berlin the years that i was there, i mean, i grabbed a map map and i said where exactly were you? we look at it. so yeah, we only learn the stories after the wall fell and that piece them together like a jigsaw puzzle, and then that's essentially how the book was written. >> thank you. >> any other questions? >> i just want to say that when i knew you guys back in college 30 some years ago i thought you were both fearless and now i know why. the message is fantastic. >> thank you, tim. an old friend from college. [laughter] >> great. so if the are no other questions, thank you all for mi